Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Should Christian Authors Use Strong Language in Their Books?

What are the biblical boundaries for strong language in fiction?
I received a gentle, respectful, and heartfelt rebuke from one of my readers recently regarding the "strong language" used in my books (he gave no specific examples of the strong language so I am left to speculate about what exactly he is referring to). Here was the reader's email to me. My reply to this sincere and thoughtful reader follows (with a few expansions from my original reply).

Hello Mr. Bond, 
I am a huge fan of your books, and have enjoyed reading them with my younger brother very much. While reading your books I found that some of them use strong language. I would never want my brother to repeat such words. I do not know why you decided to use strong language. I know that the way we speak is powerful, and very important to God. It is my hope that you will prayerfully consider writing without such words in future books. Once again, I am a huge fan of your books, especially your historical fiction, and am looking forward to your next book.

Dear Reader,

I appreciate your concerns and that you have taken the time to write me about strong language used in my books. I also appreciate the fact that you are obviously taking God's will and way, as revealed in his Word, seriously, that you clearly want to please him with your words, and you want your younger brother to grow up speaking and acting in a manner that honors the Lord Jesus. By way of reply, there are several important things I need to explain to you about why I use strong language and why I am forced to portray evil deeds as well. There is a parallel to be drawn between words and deeds.

Firstly, my guide to the language I use in my books comes from the language used in the Bible, some of which is very strong language. So I do in fact use words like damnation, hell, even the word bastard (the equivalent is used in our Bibles). The Holy Spirit in the inspired pages of the Word of God, has chosen to have recorded not only evil words said by blasphemers and haters of God (Goliath's blasphemy--strong language--Job's wife telling her husband to curse God and die, and that of many others), but evil deeds committed in rebellion against God and his people, even, alas, by God's people (Herod's slaughter of baby boys, the Danite's neglect of and then dismemberment of his concubine, Judah and Tamar's adultery, David's adultery and murder--and a host of other sinful deeds committed). It is not possible for us to separate words and deeds; the Bible records sinful words and records the sometimes graphic account of sinful deeds.

Secondly, there is a parallel with strong language and evil deeds that occur in my books. Strong language used by some of my bad characters, including individual words as well as hateful and unkind things said to and about others (hateful and unkind things they say but I would certainly not want my readers to say) is exactly parallel to evil deeds done by characters in my stories, sinful deeds like murder, betrayal, and theft. Though I portray these evil deeds in my books (many of them historical facts) none of these would I want your younger brother or any of my readers to do, anymore than I would want them to use the sinful language that some of the evil characters in my book use.

Thirdly, there is a clear distinction we must draw between the words and deeds of my protagonists and my antagonists. Just as I would not want my readers to emulate the behavior of sinful characters in my books, I would not want my readers to use the strong language (hateful words, lying, etc.) that some of my sinful characters use, just as they do in the real world and just as they are specifically portrayed as doing in the Bible. Just as in the Bible when sin is portrayed, whether in word or deed, it doesn't invite us to participate. The Holy Spirit portrays sinful words--strong language--and sinful deeds in such a way that we hate sin and love righteousness. That is precisely what I want to do in how I portray sinful characters' words and deeds in my books, something that a writer of historical fiction must do if he is to write with any integrity about the history. But by the end of the book, I want you and all my readers desperately to hate sin and absolutely not want to do it or say it.  

Lastly, it is important for me to note that I do not use swear words for sinful characters who might very well have taken the Lord's name in vain in real life; nevertheless, I have chosen not to have them swear in my books precisely because swearing is swearing, taking the Lord's name in vain is taking his name in vain. It is important to note, however, that the Bible does record the words of sinful characters who are specifically taking the Lord's name in vain: When Satan tempts Eve in the garden and says "Did God actually say...," he is taking the name of God in vain, yet the Bible records his actual words. When the Bible records the sign placed above Jesus' head on the cross, "The King of the Jews," and when the Jewish leaders curse Jesus and the Roman soldiers mock him as they beat him and crown him with thorns, all this is blasphemy, taking the Lord's name in vain, swearing, yet the Bible does actually record the strong language of this swearing and cursing--and the evil deeds unfolding. I'm sure you can think of many other examples of this kind of strong language used in Sacred Scripture.
Is there swearing in this book?

I hope this helps you understand why there is strong language in my books, and equally why there are sinful deeds depicted in them. Thank you again for your message and concerns. Please pray for me as I write. I want to be intensely biblical as I write; in both word and deed, I want to write everything I write to the glory and honor of Jesus Christ. To do so, I need and appreciate you praying regularly for me.

I received another respectful objection to the use of a favorite RC fashion of swearing using Jesus' mother's title given her by the RCC in my 8th-century Anglo-Saxon book HAND OF VENGEANCE. It was my corrupt monk antagonist Elaphius who used the phrase. The critic considered it to be taking the Lord's name in vain on the basis of the word "God" being in the phrase. What do you think? Is this swearing, taking God's name in vain? Do you agree or disagree?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Did Reformation really begin in Germany? VIVE LA FRANCE !

Giles & Gillian while I was writing on the Huguenots 2013
When we think of the Protestant Reformation, what is the first country that comes to mind? Almost everyone would say Germany. Who is the first person that comes to mind? Everyone would say Martin Luther. Intending no desparagement of the irrepressible Martin Luther or of Germany, is this strictly accurate? I will make the case at the Reformation Faire in my keynote address in Peoria, Illinois, October 17-18, 2014 that it's not at all accurate to say that the Reformation of the 16th century began in Germany. There was, to be sure, a wonderful and powerful work of the Spirit of God in Germany and through the ministry of Luther, but let's get this right. The Reformation began in France. Period.
Why then do we persist in crediting Germany and Luther for the Reformation? I plan to unpack this more thoroughly in my three address, but it has a great deal more to do with how difficult French names are to say for Anglos than with any solid historical evidence. And it has to do with how horrifically oppressive the French government and the papacy were in crushing the Huguenots, the enigmatic and difficult to pronounce name given to the followers of Christ and justification by faith alone in France.
Don't get me wrong here, I love Martin Luther; I just don't think it's historically accurate to think of him as the prototype Reformer. I'll unpack more reasons for this in my addresses at the Ref Faire, Peoria, but here's one: University of Paris professor Jacques Lefevre d'Etaples (there's a mouthful for any English speaker) was converted to Christ long before the great German Reformer, and was preaching the "Ineffable exchange" of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ alone for sinners in Paris more than a decade before Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. If that doesn't begin to shake our confidence in Luther as the vanguard of Reform, surely this will: The first Protestant martyr burned at the stake in Paris was in 1512, almost a decade before Luther would take his valiant stand for the gospel before Emperor Charles V in Worms.
God would raise up some of the most intrepid and gifted servants of Christ in France, including John Calvin, William Farel, Renee of Ferrara, Joanne of Navarre. and Pierre Viret. Like so many Christians in the world today, believers in France in the 16th century would be brutally hunted down and tragically slaughtered by the enemies of the cross of Christ, yet the gospel would continue to spread and flourish in nearly every corner of that once great land. May our exploration of the lives of some of these valiant saints fix our eyes more clearly and more lovingly on Jesus the author and perfecter of faith. 

Join me next Friday and Saturday at Providence Presbyterian Church Peoria if you're in the neighborhood!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Author-Interview with fellow P&R author Brock Eastman

  1. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?  
I always liked to create stories. My first big winner with readers was Zog in fifth grade, but it was short and didn’t take a lot of effort. As word counts grew on my homework, my desire to write
Meet author Brock Eastman
waned. It wasn’t until college that I sat down and wrote my first book. Then titled
Evad it was actually what is now Taken and Risk in The Quest for Truth. I’m not sure I ever ‘wanted’ to be a writer as much as God opened some awesome doors and I walked through them. 
  1. How long does it take you to write a book?  
Well I write quickly, I just sort of let the ideas flow from my brain to my fingers and then onto the screen. I like to let the story take me and let the characters come to life and lead the action and dialogue. Granted this can cause for a lot of rewriting or additional writing as I get my characters out of situations they get themselves into. But usually I can hammer an 80k word book out in a few months if I dedicate myself to it. It’s the rewrites and edits that add time. HowlSage was actually written in one month. I made a commitment to write one chapter a day, as the book itself goes day by day from October 1st to October 31st 
  1. What is your work schedule like when you're writing? 
When I can,” is the best way I can describe it. Life happens and my family is first, so I just grab the moments that I can and write then. It can make it harder to get momentum at time. 
  1. What would you say is a unique quality of your writing? 
Quick, fact paced action. I like to write to make my readers sweat. I try to write chapters that make them want to read just one more, then one more after that, until 7 hours later they’ve finished the book.  
  1. How do your books usually get published? Tell us more about the Kickstarter crowd funding approach to publishing your newest book? Why did you choose this method? What are the advantages or disadvantages? 
All three of my series originally started on the traditional publishing route, a proposal, a contract, an advance, writing, editing, printing, promoting. But one of my series, Sages of the Darkness, hit a bump along the way. The series’ publisher made a decision to stop releasing fiction, which left the Sages of Darkness series incomplete. It left my readers without the conclusion to Taylor’s story. Having worked in the product marketing department for Focus on the Family, I had firsthand knowledge of book promotion and creation from the publishing side. And the other two of my series, The Quest for Truth and a book in The Imagination Station series were published with traditional publishers, P&R, Focus on the Family, & Tyndale, which had given me a good readership. So what I really lacked was funding. I didn’t have the resources to pay for the editing or revised covers for the books. Aside from flat out asking for money or borrowing it, I had heard of KickStarter which is a crowdfunding platform. Crowdfunding is unique in the way that it allows creators to connect directly with consumers who are interested in their work and raise money to finish a project. It’s really a win-win for everyone. The creator gets the needed funding and the backers, as they are called, get cool rewards, like exclusive opportunities and the final products whatever they might be.  
I have a slew of rewards for my KickStarter. $5 will get your name in the acknowledgements for all the books, $35 gets you all three ebooks, $250 gets your name as a minor character, or $750 and I’ll dedicate one of the books to you and there are many more to choose from, dust jacketsm paperbacks, writing a book with me, etc. The exclusive opportunities motivate backers to give more and claim special unique rewards. Crowdfunding also creates a relationship between the author and the reader unlike ever before. My backers will always know they were responsible for the series Sages of Darkness being released and for that I will forever be grateful. It also allows me to self-publish which in the end gives me more control over the series and ultimately more revenue that I can sink back into more projects down the road. I’ve launched my own little imprint to handle my projects called Crimson Pulse Media. You can check out the KickStarter campaign by clicking here or you can go to and search for Sages of Darkness.  
  1. Where do you get your information or ideas for your books? 
It’s all in my noggin, lots of God given imagination at work. I do read articles about space and technology that act as inspiration and when I wrote Showdown with the Shepherd the book of Samuel was the key to telling that story. 
  1. When did you write your first book and how old were you? 
Well I was officially published in 2011 (contract in 2010) at age 27. But I wrote the manuscript in 2005 when I was just 22. Taken was the title of the book released in 2011, and Evad was the title of the manuscript in 2005 which would later become Taken and Risk. It’s fun to look back and think about sitting at my desk writing that first story. I had no grand dreams of getting published, I was simply pounding out 100k words because I’d felt God inspiring me and that He had a story for me to tell. I guess it was an act of obedience and faith. 
  1. What do you like to do when you're not writing?  
Spend time with my wife and my three kids. There is nothing I like to do more than be with them. In fact sometimes it’s hard to want to go and write, because I’d rather be with them. Usually I write when everyone else is in bed so I don’t miss out on time with the family. 
  1. What does your family think of your writing? 
My girls are still really young, but they think it’s cool that daddy has written books. They love looking at the covers. We often make up stories together and Kinly my oldest loves sitting t my computer and typing her own stories, generally this consists of a stream of letters and her name, but I save each and everyone of them. My wife loves reading, though my stuff isn’t in her favorite genre. Still she’s very supportive of the work I am doing and always comes to my signings. I’m thankful to have  wife that puts up with a creative type. 
  1. What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books? 
  1. How many books have you written? Which is your favorite? 
In The Quest for Truth I have written 4. 3 (Taken, Risk, Unleash) are released and 1 (Tangle) is being edited. There is 1 (Hope) left in that series to write, bringing The Quest for Truth to 5 books. Only 1 (HowlSage) of the books in Sages of Darkness has released, but if the KickStarter is successful, there will be 2 (BlizzardSage, CrimsonSage) more. I wrote 1 (Showdown with the Shepherd) book in The Imagination Station series and have self-published two short novellas; Wasted Wood and Coming Storm. 
My favorite series is The Quest for Truth. Partially because it’s my first story, but mostly because it’s futuristic and the characters are like family to me. Oliver, Tiffany, Mason, and Austin have come alive in ways I could have never expected. When I sit down and write, it’s like I am working with a team as their personalities rise to the surface and show me what direction the story should go in. The Quest for Truth is also action packed and I’ve been able to explore all sorts of ideas from my imagination. Part Indiana Jones, part Star Wars, the series has something for everyone, it even has dinosaurs! 
Sages of Darkness is up there though. I always wanted to tell the full story. It’s about spiritual warfare and how easily we take the battle between Angels and demons for granted. Every moment around us a battle rages that we can’t necessarily see. And I know that I don’t put on the full armor of God every day, yet I should because the battle doesn’t cease just because I don’t prepare. Satan wants to kill, steal, and destroy and the only way to stand strong is to arm ourselves each and every day as we serve the Lord. That said this series takes readers deeper into this world and reveals it to them. We see Taylor the main character struggle like we do, he’s just a normal guy. 
  1. Do you have any suggestions to help young writers become better writers? If so, what are they? 
Number one: JUST FINISH! I think the biggest problem I see, is kids have great ideas, but they don’t want to write the whole story. One chapter isn’t a book, ideas on paper aren’t a book, you need to write the story from beginning to end. Don’t even edit the first time; just write your whole story from start to finish When you have full story it’s easier to pull it apart and revise it into a great story. It’s like most anything you buy, version 1 is usually not as great as version 2 and 3. But version 2 and 3 wouldn’t be possible without a complete working version 1. There will be plenty of time to go back and clean it up. JUST FINISH!  
I’d add, don’t let your first critique get you down, don’t let any critique get you down. Use criticisms positive or negative to dig in and make your story better. I received some hard criticism when I first started writing; I took it to heart and stopped writing. Eventually I shook it off and continued to finished my book. And what do you know, I got published. I believe that if you tell the story God wants you too, then it’s going to find its place, its home with a publisher. If God is in it, success will follow. 
  1. Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say? 
Yes I do. I have a facebook, a twitter, a pinterest, and a website all of which receive comments and questions on a daily basis. It’s hard work keeping up sometimes, but the more engaged my readers the more exciting this journey is and the more I know my books are having impact. But this is again one of the top reasons I launched the KickStarter for Sages of Darkness. I have received so many comments, emails, and questions in regards to BlizzardSage the planned book 2 in the series. Finally after my last book signing and one reader asking for the fifth time, I decided it was time to take the plunge.  
The feedback for my books has been far and wide positive. I love reading the Amazon reviews for my books, because a lot of those readers aren’t connected with me through my author channels and it heartening to know that I am reaching more people beyond my sphere. 
  1. Why do you write books? What is your overall purpose for writing? What do you want to accomplish by doing it? 
I believe that God is using me to tell stories He wants written. It’s a form of evangelism, my mission perhaps. These stories connect with kids in ways other ministry might not and the books can get into the hands of people who may otherwise never cross the threshold of a church. Ultimately I hope God uses these stories to inspire and connect people to Him.  
  1. What do you think makes a good story? 
Characters that come to life and the reader can connect to, mixed with exciting locations and lots of action. But that’s me, I’m a guy, and I love action! Plus you need a dinosaur somewhere in the story to really make it sizzle. 
  1. As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up? 
Great question, I wanted to be a paleontologist and I was the only second grader who could spell it. From the time I was a little little boy I loved dinosaurs and I wanted to spend time digging them up and putting them together. Then when Land Before Time, Dino Riders, and finally Jurassic Park came out I was obsessed. But as I grew older I decided spending lots of time in a hot desert slowly using a brush to clear dust off of bones wasn’t as appealing and I switched to something a bit more creative but yet practical; marketing. For this I am grateful, because that was God’s plan to get me to Focus on the Family, working on Adventures in Odyssey, and eventually published. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Singing Mouth Open--Mind (partially) Closed


In the course of my research and writing and teaching about hymns over the last couple of decades I have learned many wonderful things about hymns, hymn writers, and hymnody—and every time I open the hymnal (usually the Trinity) I learn something new! I love singing hymns. I love the very best of our hymn lyrics from the last seventeen hundred years or so, and I have come more and more to love them not only as heartfelt passionate expressions of praise to God but as the best of English poetry. It was American poet John Greenleaf Whittier who said, "The highest use of poetry is the hymn."  In addition, I love many of the timeless musical settings of great classic hymn poetry, and I appreciate a growing number of the new hymns that are being written by thoughtful Christian poets and musicians. Because I love hymns and singing so much, I totally agree with what John Calvin observed about music, "Music has a secret and almost incredible power to move hearts.”

As I have been incorporating the study and imitation of the best hymns as poetry worthy to be studied as such in my high school English classes, however, I have discovered some significant obstacles to understanding and appreciating hymns for this generation of Christian young people. Nowhere is this more obvious than when students attempt to write about hymns as poetry. I teach my students to explore the meaning of poetry by writing poetry explications, essays written specifically about poetry, wherein they observe and evaluate the effectiveness of the various poetic conventions used and the depth and richness of the meaning. I often have them compare poets with the poetry of hymns written at the same time or in similar circumstances. For example, I include Lutheran pastor Martin Rinkhart’s great lyric, Now Thank We All Our God, written while the Thirty-Years War was raging through Germany, in my course on World War I poets. Rinkhart’s 17th century hymn was sung August 1, 1914 on the streets of Berlin when the Kaiser announced the mobilization of German troops to invade Belgium. It makes a dramatic counterpoint to the despair and anger of many of the WW I poets.


Here is where I discovered the problem for my students. When I give them a poem of Wordsworth or Cowper or Shakespeare to analyze and evaluate, they know what to do. It looks like and reads like poetry. It is in the format in which the poet originally penned the words. They can observe the basic unit of poetry, the line, with its hard left margins and capitalized first lines (center lining poetry is a Hallmark card reduction of meaning and content to visual form and is unlike the format the poet wrote the poetry in). They can find the parallel ideas, the progression of thought, the figures of speech, the allusions, the meter, the rhyme scheme, the poet’s use of various sound devices, the use of inclusio, and other subtleties of the poetic art. But when I give them a hymn from the Trinity Hymnal (I consider the Trinity to be the very best of American hymnals and use it daily), they are frustrated and confused. When I give them a hymn with the poetry imbedded in and subordinated to the musical score, as it appears in almost all American hymnals since the mid-19th century, they panic.

Poetic form lost to and subsumed in the musical notation
At first I didn’t get this. I grew up singing hymns in church; I read music; I love music. At first, I concluded it was part of the decline of culture, the loss of the ability to read music and sing hymns. But as I traveled to various other countries around the world, I discovered something very interesting. Maybe its American exceptionalism again. But I’m not so sure. We Americans seem to be the only ones who hand hymnals to our congregations that have the poetry of the hymns in a subordinate role to the music so it does not look like or read like its genre--poetry. Every other country I have visited (UK, New Zealand, Tonga, Europe, Japan, Peru, etc.) the hymnals have the lyric of the poetry visible as poetry, in lines and stanzas the way the poet wrote it. I have  talked to missionaries and Christians from other countries I had not visited. I discovered that we Americans are pretty much the only ones that do this.


So I did some more research. As near as I can find, we began doing this as a direct result of the shift in priorities in 19th century revivalism. We began replacing many of the Psalm versifications from the Reformation, and many of the classic hymns with revival songs that in general were sentimental, repetitive, lacking in theological depth, and addressed largely to the sinner rather than as expressions of worship and adoration to God. This reduction of the content and the quality of lyric went hand in hand with the crafting of new music, designed to attract the lost into the camp meeting tent. The new popular musical sound (the worst of it somewhere between merry-go-round ditty, the frontier cowboy song, and barbershop quartet sound) became more important because it was the hook to draw in the lost. Music was no longer accompaniment as an aid in taking the meaning of the poetry on the lips and in the heart and mind.

In Protestant Christian worship, music has always been in a subordinate role to aid the worshiper in taking to heart and mind the meaning and richness of the poetic lyric. Though Calvin knew and appreciated the incredible power of music to move hearts, he cautioned against getting music and the objective meaning of the words flipped around, "We must beware lest our ears be more intent on the music than our minds on the spiritual meaning of the words.” But in Revivalism that’s precisely what happened, the words became less important. The new format of the hymnal reflects this shifting priority of revivalism. Charles Finney’s New Measures and Pelagian theology, flipped things around. The new format of the American hymnal, reducing the central importance of the poetry, was born. I would argue that this format does exactly what Calvin cautioned us against, our eye and ear “more intent on the music” (that’s the first thing we see in Revivalism-influenced hymnal format, musical score not poetic lines) “than our minds on the spiritual meaning of the words.”

Ask English students to write a timed essay under exam conditions about hymn poetry or offer them hymn poetry in its original poetic format, poetry stripped and dissected to fit the musical format, and they will choose every time to have it in poetic form. But we might object and say that when we are singing in church we are not writing an essay; they are two entirely different activities. Though that is true, both activities require the ones reading and singing the poetry to understand the meaning of what they are reading and singing. Christians rightly place a high premium on the engagement of the mind and of the imagination in worship. I would argue that singing hymns from a hymnal inadvertently formatted to make it more difficult to observe the subtleties of the poetry being sung is actually working against its own purpose.


Maybe it’s time to take on a remaining reductionist influence of Revivalism on our hymnal and thus on our worship. Why not consider a cross page format, the poetry in lines and stanzas on the left and facing the poetry the musical score with poetry imbedded? For shorter hymns the poetry could appear on the top of the page and the musical score at the bottom. To reduce the obvious increase in page numbers,
My newest release on hymnody
more hymns that are not used could be retired. I realize the difficulties and potential added expense, but I don’t think any of us believe that cost should keep us from confronting an obstacle to the engagement of mind and heart in our sung worship as significant as this one is.

In this proposed format reconfiguration (not a new configuration, but a return to one that is consistent with how Reformed Christians have sung in worship since the Reformation itself—poetry and meaning first, music second) it will send a clear message to the worshiper that the meaning of the words, taken on the lips, in the heart, and understood in the mind, is of first importance in our worship. I guarantee that the majority of worshipers (especially our young children) will sing from the poetry (some studies indicate that only about 25-30% read music when singing in church anyway). They certainly will pray and meditate from the hymnal from the poetry where the progression of thought and rich poetic conventions are uninterrupted by the musical notation. I conclude with Calvin’s caution: "We must beware lest our ears be more intent on the music than our minds on the spiritual meaning of the words.” I urge publishers of hymnals to consider rescuing hymn poetry from the influence of Revivalism so that our hymnal format reflects biblical priority in sung worship.

Douglas Bond is author of a number of books for young people and adults, including his Mr Pipes series on Hymn writers, Augustus Toplady (EP, 2012), and The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts (RT, 2013). Bond also writes hymns which you can read and sing at